People like Jesus, but they don’t like Christians.

I’ve heard it a thousand times, with most of the posts and articles prescribing solutions of improved Christian behavior to solve this problem. What would Jesus do, and all that. Act more like Christ, and people will like us again.

But the problem of cozying up to Jesus but not His followers actually starts in a completely different place:

We don’t know Christ as well as we do Christians.

Our portrait of Jesus is static — a flannel, mystical guru serving up cherry-picked platitudes we remember from Sunday School. We like Jesus because He said profound things, healed the sick and the lame, fed the hungry. He is long ago and far away, solid and unchanging and incapable of betraying our fixed concepts of Him.

Christians, though — we know them all too well. They are here and now, failing and fallen, asking too much of us, letting us down. Unlike the Christ we remember, Christians are in our face and unpredictable. They are easy to dislike, easy to blame, easy to discard when we get hurt.

But truthfully, when I really begin to get to really know Jesus — when He becomes a person and not just a portrait painted from my memory and to my tastes — He sometimes rubs me the wrong way, too.

The real Jesus — the Word of God — is living and active and sharper than a two-edged sword. He pierces the thoughts and intentions of my heart (Hebrews 4:12). He calls me to deny myself and take up my cross (Matthew 16:24). He asks my kids to hate their hope in me in comparison to their hope in Him (Luke 14:26).

The real Jesus asks me to believe in impossibilities — a virgin birth (Matthew 1:23), the dead raised to life (John 20:24-28), His exclusive power to offer eternal life (John 14:6). He commands me to not worry about a moment of my life (Matthew 6:25), to trust in Him and not one bit of my own performance, even if it’s done in His name (Matthew 7:21-23).

He asks me to believe that He was God among us — infinite, eternal glory confined and defined as a baby in a manger, a carpenter on a cross, dying for me.

The real Jesus is difficult, far more so, than dealing with pesky Christians. The real Jesus requires that I deal with myself, admitting the abject poverty of my heart and the riches of His grace, offered freely to me though I could never pay them back.

The real Jesus messes me up even as He’s putting me back together.

In Colossians 2:3, the Apostle Paul says the he longs for us to find assurance in Christ, “in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” The word for treasures here means a chest, a jewel box — the tucked away place we store our most precious things.

To know and love the real Jesus takes some hunting and digging, not just remembering. We have to excavate beyond the Jesus we recall to find the Jesus who rescued us. We must allow Him to come alive to us today — to speak to us, to challenge us, to take us places we never planned to go.

And the twist to the story is this: when we dig down into all the treasures that are hidden in Christ, we find ourselves among them — ourselves and all of those other ragtag Christians we find it hard to love — shining there in the jewel box of the Lord.

They shall be mine, says the Lord of hosts, in the day when I make up my treasured possession. Malachi 3:17

Jesus himself told us how we’d know we’d made it all the way to his heart: that we’d love the people He loves. “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:35

When we know the real Jesus, we learn that it is impossible to love Jesus and to not love Christians.

Love for those who have been called to follow Him is our very trademark, our calling card. We shine in the world — we act most like Christ — when we love each other when we don’t deserve it, telling the glorious story of how He first loved us the same way.

There is no hiding away in my own spirituality, getting to know the genuine Christ, without growing in love for those who bear His name. They are the treasure He bled for, spilling His life out to call them His own.

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